Another Tack: Olmert's middle schmiddle

"Middle" becomes the supreme virtue by virtue of not standing for much of anything.

During this entire campaign we've heard nothing unambiguous from prime-ministerial front-runner Ehud Olmert. Saying nothing to all people advantageously ensconces Kadima's headliner on the much-touted middle ground, hyped as creditable and dependable. Those who won't flock to that indistinct nondescript space under his leadership are denigrated as fanatics. Olmert characterizes the Likud - where he was chronically and severely unpopular - as "the conservative Right." Labor - whose dropouts he recruited - is "the radical Left." By Olmert's self-serving criteria, his Kadima chimera is the superior option because it lays claim to the conjectured (yet celebrated) neutral zone between the two, presumably untainted by excesses attributed to parties with less deliberately obscured agendas. As sly a wheeler-dealer as Olmert can transform blur into blessing. "Middle" becomes the supreme virtue by virtue of not standing for much of anything. Its promoters equate it with moderation, which can sometimes be the case but not necessarily so. Moderation itself isn't what we should automatically aspire to. It may work in certain circumstances but bomb in others. Moderation, moreover, isn't inexorably synonymous with pragmatism. And pragmatism isn't always wise and mustn't be confused with levelheadedness. History is replete with examples of calamitous and cowardly choices paraded as pragmatic. Conversely, sometimes bold, nonconformist and unfashionable responses prove in retrospect to have been truly pragmatic. OLMERT NOT only disingenuously confers "middle-of-the-roader," "moderate" and "pragmatist" epithets upon himself, he cunningly smudges their distinctions, jumbles them together and then markets the mishmash to the undiscriminating as incomparably sound and sensible. What he hawks is no less opium for the masses than traditional ecclesiastical addictions. Olmert offers intoxicating peace of mind to those too trendily uncritical or clueless enough to overlook all past precedents in which acclaimed middle grounds became vast killing fields. Centrism isn't perforce the product of sober analysis. Repeatedly it's a dithering escape from resolve. It's tempting to malign those unafraid to take a stand as rabid fiery-eyed nutcases, foaming at the mouth for good measure. Some upright rightist and some laudable leftist choices saved the day at given junctures in human annals. There can be a coolheaded rational Right and non-doctrinaire non-demagogic Left. What lies between isn't conclusively better as much as it's a cop-out. The dictionary definition of the latter noun is "an evasion; an excuse for inaction." Its verb form is defined as "to avoid trouble and responsibility, evade an issue or problem, disengage oneself." This definition predates the Sharon-Olmert-Weisglass brand of unilateral disengagement. But the uniquely Israeli surrender of vital strategic assets to still-viable enemies encapsulates the notion of cop-out. It's the ultimate retreat in the face of adversity, the hope that unpleasantness will disappear if we only step aside. Disengagement's logic is that of a householder who discovers his kitchen is on fire. Instead of dousing the flames or summoning help, he closes the door behind him and retires to the living room, where he lounges in front of the boob-tube. He has disengaged from the blaze. OLMERT AND his fair-weather running mates call this scaremongering regardless of the fact that so far all scaremongers' predictions were unerringly borne out. Euphoria-engendering Oslo disintegrated into a murderous mess. Disengagement brought more Kassams to more and softer targets. Unilateralism emboldened Hamas instead of improving the prospects for coexistence. We were right. We told you so. Nevertheless delusional disengagement from reality continues to be upheld as the essence of prudence. Self-deception is bliss - at least until the rude awakening, which Olmert strives mightily to delay, so we'd follow him more readily to that vapid and vacuous middle ground, where we can savor a brew of half-coffee and half-tea. The gullible are enticed over and over. The seeds of WWII germinated on the ostensibly sane and safe middle ground. Its allure facilitated the global cataclysm. Quintessentially moderate and pragmatic Neville Chamberlain was the middle ground's then-iconic high priest. In his gentlemanly manner, he was the consummate champion of cop-out. It wasn't a personal failing or idiosyncrasy. He wasn't pursuing a private agenda, which eventually collapsed catastrophically. Chamberlain popularly reflected his nation's zeitgeist. Most Britons wanted to disengage. That's why middle Britons en masse supported the 1934 Peace Ballot. It was promoted by Lord Robert Cecil, who won the 1937 Nobel Peace Prize for his folly. Some 500,000 canvassers went door-to-door to poll ordinary folk on whether they were for peace and against war - as manipulative as asking who's for healing and against pain (or for Olmert's moderation and against extremism). With no terms or conditions stipulated, "peace" won by a whopping 10,500,000 votes to a mere 750,000. This was anything but harmless (as an Olmert/Kadima landslide on March 28 won't be). The Peace Ballot made London's deterrence ring hollow, because despite its inherent bias, it encouraged appeasement. It made Europe's ensuing bloodbath inevitable, having assured Hitler that - much as the Brits abhorred him - they didn't want to fight. In his June 9 address to the Israel Policy Forum at New York's Waldorf-Astoria, Olmert declared: "we are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies. We want to be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies." Words worthy of Chamberlain and as unmindful of whether ever-implacable foes consent to a "different environment." If they don't, Olmert will shut the kitchen door, ignore jihadist pyromania and let genocidal arsonists amass more incendiary devices, while he switches on the TV to lull our battle-fatigued minds.